Dear Shah Rukh Khan,
You may not remember me, but we met a few weeks ago at the launch of a book on your career. I was the smitten, starstruck co-author that wouldn't stop staring at you, telling you, in an infinite loop, how madly in love with you I've been all my life. It's something you've probably heard so many times, your eyes must glaze over every time another 20-something gasps those words at you in infatuated adoration. I've been sent an embarrassing number of photos from the night of the launch, all of which have me grinning at you like a chimpanzee hopped up on steroids. Thank you for indulging me, Mr Khan.
I've often been asked about my obsession with you; few people can understand why you seem to affect me so acutely, and why the world literally seems to fade away every time I'm in a theatre, watching you. So here's how our "relationship" has ebbed and flowed, through my lifetime.
I've often been asked about my obsession with you; few people can understand why you seem to affect me so acutely
I was too young to be anything more than mildly amused when you waved and dimpled at Simran in slow motion. The most tangible way you affected my life then was that for one whole year, my exasperated father was seen almost exclusively in red and white striped t-shirts to keep mum happy. Twenty years on, they still sometimes quarrel about it. That year quite possibly robbed Papa of the ability to look at you without flinching at the memory of the merciless teasing he silently endured because of his wife's devotion to you. It is ironic that I stood with you on stage the very day he underwent lifesaving surgery and his last words to me before being wheeled into the OT were to make sure I get a proper photo with you. Mum and I think he's always just been grudgingly envious of you.
By the time you pronounced that hum "ek baar jeete hain, ek baar marte hain, shaadi bhi ek hi baar hoti hai aur pyaar, pyaar bhi ek hi baar hota hai", I had a much better understanding of love. I loved Shashank Pandey from the school next door with all the purity of an 11-year-old climbing into the possibilities of love for the first time in life. It was love at first sight as he peered at me from above his model of a solar water heater and I smiled back shyly from my own replica of the drip irrigation system.
I loved Shashank Pandey from the school next door with all the purity of an 11-year-old climbing into the possibilities of love for the first time in life.
Unfortunately, my pehla pyaar remained adhura because drip irrigation beat solar heater's ass and even at that age, watching a boy sulking ungraciously after losing out to a girl had the effect of a wet blanket being unceremoniously flung on my ardour. I was devastated, but also a little bit relieved. If pyaar was a prohibited cocktail, I was okay to wait a little before downing it. Even though the first few sips had been heady, there were science fairs and writing scholarships to be won and I was slammed, living my four-day-long love saga. I understood then why our films rarely showed lovers encumbered by the demands of education and employment.
Through the noughties, I saw you courting love in many ways and each time, you left a mark on me. I'm told that you believe you leave a part of you behind with every role you play. As a die-hard fan of yours, I've always felt that I take a part of you with me every time I walk out of the theater. That my "understanding" of love is actually just fragments of you that I've collected over the years. It would be duplicitous to pretend they've all worked out swimmingly well for me. The messages I was assimilating often left me confused.
There have also been times when you've waged ugly wars between my feminism and my feelings. I'm not supposed to adore someone who endorses fairness creams, even if it is mardon ke liye!
There have also been times when you've waged ugly wars between my feminism and my feelings. I'm not supposed to adore someone who endorses fairness creams, even if it is mardon ke liye! When you say you don't want to seem pro-feminist, it makes me sad, angry and disappointed. But even then, by god, if you opened your arms wide in my vicinity, wild horses wouldn't be able to keep me from rushing into them and attaching myself to you.
Then what is it that I'm thanking you for?
For making me believe, and always keep believing, in the magic of love.
As my confused teens melted into the life-changing 20s, which are now hurtling towards the self-aware 30s, I learnt some pretty alarming things about relationships and love. I've learnt that love isn't always kind and forgiving, it is often vengeful, and that even good people hold within themselves a staggering capacity for cruelty. I've learnt that love isn't always forever, or even enough. I've learnt that for so many of us, it isn't even a prerequisite, that we're capable of leading perfectly happy, fulfilled life in its absence.
And even as I carry the knowledge from these new lessons of love and make my way through a world that is far removed from the ones I see you living in, on screen, I use you as an anchor to keep me moored to a part of me I'm not yet ready to let go of.
And even as I carry the knowledge from these new lessons of love and make my way through a world that is far removed from the ones I see you living in, on screen, I use you as an anchor to keep me moored to a part of me I'm not yet ready to let go of. The part that still believes that love is worth the hassle and the wait. It's still worth longing for. The part that thinks that every corner holds the possibility of crashing into the one meant for you. In a reality filled with compromises, cutting corners and co-opting beliefs, it is nice to have something to hold on to, even if it's just an idea.
A little part of me crumbled when you said that you often don't believe in the romance you're selling. Even as I picked a career on the fringes of Bollywood, I spent years avoiding the possibility of "knowing" you. Because how often can our childhood loves withstand the scrutiny of adulthood? I was scared of losing my idea of you to the real you.
But that day, I realised I don't need you to believe what you made me believe; that even if filling my head with foolish ideas of love was just a job you happen to excel at, I'm thankful that you do it. You gave me hope, and in a world that often feels like a nightmare, that's worth a lot.
Thank you, Mr Khan, you lit a fire that refuses to die.
A very grateful fan.